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Romney nixes the arts. Some think Obama can do better.

In the second of our series on the two presidential candidates and the arts, New York-based novelist and writer Scott Rose presents a fairly roseate view of the Obama effect. Here‘s a previous Obama piece by Nicholas Alexander Brown. And here’s what Romney’s gonna do.

 

 

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA AND THE ARTS

By Scott Rose

Two of the most widely reviewed vocal performances of 2012 to date were performed by a Nobel Peace Prize winner.

 

A video of President Obama singing a phrase from Al Green’s classic Let’s Stay Together went viral in January, within a week stimulating 16,000 digital download sales of Reverend Green performing the song. Cynics carped, yet the momentousness of the country’s first leader of color singing at The Apollo Theater was almost easy to miss because of the infectious, smiling insouciance in his act.

We previously knew that Obama appreciates the arts – he and Michelle went to the Art Institute of Chicago on their first date – but it was a revelation to the public that the president can be charming when he sings. In February, during the Red, White and Blues event in the East Room of the White House, Mick Jagger handed Barack a microphone, then the president and B.B. King traded phrases of Sweet Home Chicago. The concert aired on PBS.

Did that performance by an African-American Democrat provoke Republicans into fire-breathing attacks against the Public Broadcast System?

 

Not necessarily, as Republicans never had wanted to hear PBS when taking their Kool-Aid – um, excuse me – their tea. The roadblocks that Obama would encounter in trying to fulfill his ambitious visions for the arts in America perhaps are seen symbolized in the fate of the New York City Opera after David H. Koch gave $100 million for renovation of the New York State Theater, kicking the company out for a season and then not coughing up a penny for it as it staggered under the devastating weight of the neo-cons’ deregulated credit default swap masterpiece.

 

In 2008, candidate Obama had a National Arts Policy Committee, with a Platform in Support of the Arts. You will find no such thing associated with the Romney campaign, even if you look for it off-shore. To comprehend what is at stake for the arts in the November election, we must consider that Romney is promising massive increases in military spending while, illogically, balancing the budget by lowering taxes and getting rid of the subsidies for PBS, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. I am in an ineffably artistic, trembling rage as I type this.

 

The 2008 arts platform described grand plans for reinvesting in arts education. Reading through the website of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (www.pcah.gov), you might learn about many laudable, if under-the-radar events. The recently-launched Turnaround Arts Initiative, for instance, is a pilot program to boost overall achievement in underserved schools by enhancing their arts education; studies consistently show that arts in the schools correlate with higher academic accomplishment.

 

The pilot program is only being implemented in a few school districts; disappointed arts advocates express dismay, but how was the president to get a larger program funded, given all the obstreperously obstructionist, overstuffed Babbitts in Congress?

 

Society clearly has no need for Mitt’s planned “creative destruction” of the arts, but I am too humble to instruct people how to vote, so shall end with this quote from Plato: “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.”

 

 

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Comments

  1. If Obama so loves the arts where’s the 190 million he promised for the NEA in his 2008 platform? In the 2008 elections, the Democrats won a majority in both houses of congress. So why did they not give the NEA the promised 190 million? In 2010, the Democrats retained the majority in the Senate, but still no effort has been made to fulfill the promise. Name a significant effort Obama made to get the funding. Why did he not propose the funding as at least a stand of principle?

    We see that the Democrats will not significantly increase NEA funding even when they have the opportunity. Nor will they take a genuinely principled stand. And once again we see a commentator with blind and naive political allegiance even when the arts have been betrayed. The Democrats are not the solution. Like the Republicans, they are part of the problem. When it comes to public arts funding, we are not given a substantive choice in our elections.

    • William Safford says:

      “In the 2008 elections, the Democrats won a majority in both houses of congress. So why did they not give the NEA the promised 190 million?”

      Alas, a majority in both houses of Congress is not sufficient to pass legislation these days, especially considering what a hot button topic the NEA is with social conservatives and how opposed to any governmental involvement in the arts small-government conservatives are.

      I could write much more on this topic, but this is an arts blog, not a politics blog.

    • I could be wrong, but I seem to recall that when Obama entered office, regardless of any majority of control of Congress, he had inherited a major financial crisis and was having to deal with a series of forced moves that every man and his dog knew would flow on to the 2012 election. Now I could be wrong about all this, but it’s just that I seem to recall it being in every bit of media worth paying attention to.

      This is of course not the same as entering office with a nice budget surplus and lack of international crisis and control of both houses facilitating the implementation of a political mandate. And true to form, as soon as the Republicans gained control of one house, they stonewalled left right and centre. The stated Republican objective right at the outset was to cause Obama to be a one term president. That was their main game from the outset and at all times, and I most definitely recall a Republican politician being quoted on this. I can’t recall the politician (might have been Gingrich), nor the publication (might have been Time magazine or a national newspaper – but I know I read it).

  2. “There is no sound spiritual life without music. Music is an indispensable part of universal human knowledge. Let music belong to everyone! It is only natural that music has to be made part of the school curriculum.” Zoltan Kodaly

  3. Democrat or Republican dont give a toss about the arts. Only religion, bombs & taxes count.

    • Paul D. Sullivan, Arlington/Boston US says:

      OK Alan, what’s the solution?

      • In the end, the issue is about an animal called Homo sapiens, which has a longstanding pattern of certain types of behaviours dating back as far as we can find records.

        Meantime, the main solution we have at hand in democracies is to get involved as best one can. The clincher for this election will be who manages to get the message best on getting people registered to vote. And that can be done without massive spending. It requires feet on the ground and interacting with people. Can be done. Has been done.

  4. Petros Linardos says:

    No comparison between the two US presidential candidates is complete without juxtaposing Obama’s “Sweet home Chicago” clip to Romney’s “America the Beautiful”:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-plNbpIlC8

    • Interesting.

      Mind you, there is a difference in focus, with one appealing to nationalism, while the other appeared to be simply enjoying the moment, and demonstrating a nimble, witty intellect and pro-social charisma. History has of course shown leaders who demonstrated charisma, but with psychopathological aspects and considerable disastrous sequelae.

  5. One would have to be suffering from cognitive dissonance if he believes that the president’s singing Al Green translates into support for true artistic endeavors on a national level.

  6. Stephen Carpenter says:

    All well said I would guess. Here’s my thought as an artist and as a supporter of the arts. The arts have always been subsidized by the community /culture / society. As a republic, what was the responsibility of a few rulers fell to all of us. And all of us have the voice of debate. (well, in a functional republic there is debate). So it should never be a conversation about “if”. Yet that is where it is and well meaning friends tell me to get a real job and support myself. Nice idea- where will the audience come from?

    Also- in case you have missed it, the recent art auctions have priced significant art works out of reach of the museums (which, like it or not, are repositories for our collective art heritage), added to the concerted effort to dismantle our performing organizations throughout our communities. I can only say that we are on the edge of creating an officially constituted commonwealth without art. There will be artists because that comes from a deep and ancient place but without the audience, there will be less and less motivation and eventually the last artist will succumb alone, in a reverse of the first artist who created alone.

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